A version of this article originally appeared on Performer Magazine.
The methods of finding work are constantly changing, and the type of music that sells is changing even faster. No matter how long your music career lasts, the difficulty of finding work will persist throughout for all but a lucky few. If you want a career as a composer, you need to be prepared to spend considerable energy finding work, and you'll have to do most of it guerrilla style.
1. Build a network that endorses you
If the director of a film, television show, or video game needs a composer and doesn't have the right one, he or she will almost certainly begin the search by asking colleagues for recommendations. It's very rare that people will begin by cold-calling agents or putting up advertisements. People seek personal recommendations because their options are vast. There are tens of thousands of composers to choose from; the process of starting a composer search from scratch is daunting, and nobody has the time for it.
For directors, asking friends and colleagues for recommendations does two things. First, it reduces their options from infinite to finite numbers that they can probably count on their fingers. Second, their colleagues act as a trusted filter and they can be confident that the short list is a good one. When people can simply ask around, follow up on some recommendations, and get exactly the right composer for the job, then that is the approach they will take every time.
That moment of personal recommendation is gold to a composer. If you can be the name on the top of somebody's mind, the website they happen to remember first, or the inspired genius that somebody raves about, you will be head and shoulders above the rest of the crowd. It doesn't mean you'll get the job, but it opens a door for you in the most flattering of ways. The moment in which your friend recommended you is the moment in which your art is monetized, or at least gains the potential for it.
2. Be generous and genuine within your musical community
Those recommendations will never come if you actively try to sell yourself all the time, nor will they come from "networking" in the common sense of self-promotion and handshaking for the sake of furthering your own needs. Using your relationships for active marketing strains them and diminishes them. It doesn't matter if somebody has your contact information and knows your work. What matters is that they like and respect you and that they know of your abilities. The best way to monetize the relationships you have is to consciously not try to monetize them at all, because genuine relationships are, without fail, the most reliable conduit to work opportunities.
The kind of networking that works most reliably is drawing connections for other people, not for yourself. If you know one person who has a need and another person who can fill that need, connect them with each other purely for the sake of helping two of your friends. When you are the voice giving the personal recommendation, you are strengthening your relationships with those individuals, building your community, and forming new bonds that hold it together. Your contribution to the success of others will not be forgotten. The absolute best way to propel your career forward is by pouring yourself generously into your community.
3. Surround yourself with strength and support
Composers' careers grow organically. The growth may be fast or slow, but it's never random. New growth and opportunity springs out of what's already there. If the music stands on its own and speaks well for itself, and if the composer does the same, then opportunities and relationships grow naturally. Over time, a career increases in size and substance. At some point a snowball effect begins, and it can begin to roll on its own, picking up size and speed without too much effort. The key to the growth and the snowball effect is that the core has to be strong, because it can't hold together otherwise.
The key to finding work as a composer is unquestionably the relationships you have with people. You cannot take them for granted, nor can you draw on them in a way that makes the give-and-take unbalanced. The relationships that will lead to the most long-term successes are loyal ones based on mutual respect, generosity, common interests, and shared passions. When you build a real community around yourself and pour yourself into it, you will find yourself in fertile soil where your career can grow freely and with support.
Get more networking tips:
- How to Nail Your Networking and Have Genuine Interactions
- 6 Music Industry Networking Tips Nobody Tells You
- How to Make Meaningful Music Industry Connections (Not Just Contacts)
- 5 Ways to Make Networking Suck Less
Jeremy Borum is the author of Guerrilla Film Scoring: Practical Tips from Hollywood Composers, which is also a 90-minute documentary. Learn more at guerrillafilmscoring.com, and buy his book on amazon.com.